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Straight Acting GAY MEN, MASCULINITY AND FINDING TRUE LOVE
By ANGELO PEZZOTE KENSINGTON BOOKS Copyright © 2008 Angelo Pezzote
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Inspiration
My "True Hollywood Story"
The journey home is never too long. -A.R. Rahman and Don Black
Our journey begins in West Hollywood, California. Why there? West Hollywood is gay ground zero. The US Census last reported that California, followed by New York, has the highest proportion of same-sex couples in the states plus the District of Columbia. And West Hollywood upstaged San Francisco as the queen city, having the highest ratio of same-sex couples in the United States. A third of West Hollywood's residents are gay. There are over thirty gay bars in the city, which is just 1.9 square miles. It has one of the densest US populations, which can triple on weekends, and swell up to half a million for major events like Halloween Carnival and the Gay Pride Parade. The city is known as a front-runner in social justice legislation and as one of the gayest places in the country. In fact, it's Gay Mecca.
It was my life dream to move to West Hollywood (WeHo)-the shining city of Oz! It was going to be wonderful-a great, gay city! I had already traveled much of the globe, but I chose to live in West Hollywood. I was sure to make many gay friends and build a fulfilling life with my partner. Happiness awaited me. After all, if I couldn't find it in West Hollywood as a gay man, then where on earth was left?
After ten years of California dreaming, I finally moved to the Emerald City from Boston, MA. After three and a half years together, my partner and love of my life unexpectedly told me he wasn't in love with me anymore. He walked out six months after arriving in West Hollywood and never looked back. He quickly joined the hot WeHo scene. When I bumped into him several months later, he was a stranger wearing another man's ring. I was heartbroken and felt hopeless. I was without a support system, and a severe depression arose in me. It hit me with the full force of a devastating blow. I would never hurt myself, but it was a time I could hardly bear. I wanted to die every minute of every day for many months. No one was truly there for me in the promised land. It was a dark, cold, and barren time.
I quickly realized I was not in Kansas anymore. I was tormented by the Wicked Witch of the West. She was disconnection, isolation, and loneliness. The three years I lived there were the most painfully lonely in my life. So many gay men, and yet I was so alone, treated with such indifference. Nicholas Snow, creator of notesfromhollywood.com and friend, put it best. He told me that American materialism, the Hollywood emphasis on appearances, and the fit body image of the gay male gym culture, all collide in West Hollywood with an intensity unlike anywhere else.
It seemed like most of the gay men there had a perfect Adonis appearance adorned with a perfect attitude. It was as if they were beautiful carvings of cold stone. Gorgeous, youthful, impeccably dressed, meticulously manicured, incredibly fit, and masculine to boot. They were calculatingly posed with an expressionless, emotionally unavailable stare that looked right past you as if you weren't there. They seemed to be sending out a strong contradictory message-I'm here and I'm fabulous, but don't you dare talk to me. I felt invisible. I may as well have been. It was nearly impossible to meet anybody. Unless alcohol or drugs were involved, the facades typically didn't come tumbling down on their own. It was an uninviting atmosphere, for the most part. While researching this subject, I interviewed many gay men with similar experiences. Interviewees named Johan and Doug shared their thoughts with me:
All kinds of people compliment me on my looks except other gay men. I feel a big difference when I'm surrounded by just gay men. They're all so stuck-up and stuck on themselves. Everyone's so guarded and it feels really unfriendly. I feel rejected by gay men rather than welcomed. I look around and feel worthless-like I'll never be good enough. I don't experience these feelings of insecurity in other places. I think I have good self-esteem, but I feel like I want to slit my wrists when I'm in a room full of gay guys. In fact, I'd prefer a Starbucks to a gay coffee shop, a gym to a gay gym, and a bar to a gay bar any day.
I went on one of those big gay cruises thinking I was going to meet 2,000 great guys and I wanted to jump overboard after just a couple of days. It didn't feel welcoming at all.
Being lonely and being alone are not the same. Loneliness hurts, but being able to be comfortably alone with oneself is healthy. We create our own happiness from within. No one outside of us can truly make us happy, so it's important to learn to be alone. But I also know that it's a natural desire to share our lives with a partner and friends so we're not lonely. I'm not perfect, but with few notable exceptions, I could not meet friends, find dates, or hitch the future man of my dreams in West Hollywood. And I tried like hell.
I thank a power greater than myself for leading me to Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith's Agape International Spiritual Center (agapelive.com) in Culver City. I have been very inspired by Dr. Beckwith, both personally and professionally, adapting his teaching about love and authenticity for both my life and work with gay men. Agape was a magically supportive place. As a stranger walking in the door, I felt warm and welcomed by members. Everyone was like Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. It would be great if gay bars were embracing like that. We could straggle in, having been ravaged by the hostile antigay war outside, welcomed by our brothers.
Now, I'm sure West Hollywood can be a great place and that there are good people to be found there. But I was miserable in Gay Mecca. This deeply troubled me. I am a good person and a trained expert in building relationships. Yet I couldn't connect meaningfully with other gay souls in a preeminently gay city. Surely other gay men living there wanted deeper connection too. Something outside of me and them seemed to be getting in the way. I wondered what it was. I started to ponder this disconnect in our community. Didn't my experience in West Hollywood, the gayest of cities, reveal something about our sense of community as gay people in Anytown, USA?
I thought so. I started a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) advice column, Ask Angelo, and Web site, askangelo.com, to address my concerns. Ask Angelo debuted at westhollywood.com, and soon after, I got invited for my first interview with notesfrom hollywood.com. Then Ask Angelo received its first online syndication at the gaywired.com network (now part of here! Interactive Media), and was printed in their international magazine Gay Monkey (now here! magazine). Edgenewyork.com network soon followed.
I began receiving letters from gay men everywhere. They also spoke of loneliness and feeling that there was something empty about gay culture. They too felt there seemed to be something missing in gay life. I listened to these men's voices. I'll be using Ask Angelo letters throughout the book to help bridge theory and real-life experience. The letters I use serve to represent the many I get just like them. I hear these same voices echoed again and again in my private psychotherapy practice, where I work almost exclusively with gay men, formerly in West Hollywood and now in Chelsea. The following letter is a composite.
I'm a good-looking normal guy, fairly new to the gay scene. From what I've been through so far, it seems to be mostly hooking up going on. I try, but I can't seem to find a healthy, lasting relationship. I think gay men don't want relationships because they are always looking for the next hot boy who comes along. Or they're such judgmental perfectionists that nobody's good enough for them. Or they are too full of themselves for anyone else. It's either about how much do you have, or what can you do for me, not to mention your youthful looks. I often feel down, empty, lonely, or angry. Sometimes to destress and escape I like to drink or get high. What floors me is that there have never been more ways to meet other gay men. The Internet, gay groups, sports leagues, political groups, personal ads, and the old ways such as the bars. But so much of our lives revolve around the bars/clubs/sex. Where does the relationship line start? I want to be first in line. Anybody talk? It seems like I hit the wrong mark a lot. They like me, but I don't like them. Or I like them but they don't like me. Or they just totally lie about themselves. I'm not 'discreet' about being out. Some of these 'straight-acting' guys won't meet you if you're too out. I thought it would be easy to find a gay relationship, but gay men treat each other like shit. I don't get it. Is it just me? I knew that being gay was going to be tough, but I didn't know I would be spending my life alone. I can't think of a time in my life when I have been more depressed. Gay life can be so lonely, and I'm doing everything I'm supposed to.
It saddens me how we treat each other in our community of gay men. It's like Mean Girls. A fair share of us seem to be flying high on BMW brooms much of the time, dressed in slimming black (Dolce & Gabbana) of course. It can be shocking, disappointing, and angering. But we can be empowered to change the situation if we understand what's going on.
When I felt most lonely, I needed someone caring to tell me I wasn't alone and that there was hope. So, I decided to share what I think is happening in our community by writing this book. Like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion, I realized that I already had inside what I had been seeking outside. I drew upon my education, training, and experience as a gay psychotherapist, pharmacist, and gay man. Like Dorothy, I left Kansas only to discover-there's no place like home. I went back east. My mission became to identify what's keeping gay men apart and to help them find one another's heartspace. As a community, we've focused a lot on the "gay" part of "gay man" but not enough on the "man" part. I hope this book changes that. Reliable statistics on gay men are still relatively scarce. The figures I provide are intended to show us the ballpark. This isn't meant to be a research or history book, or to represent every gay man's experience. It's just my take on things.
In my private practice for gay men, I observe that clients who suffer most have been, are, and fear being chastised by people for being gay. Much of our suffering comes from experiencing other people's negative reactions to us being gay, not from being gay by nature. I think almost all gay men experience social and psychological trauma because of prejudicial gay stigma, discrimination and oppression. We are significantly stressed and unfairly challenged by the toxic homophobic atmosphere of our heterosexist culture and negatively impacted by the dysfunctional responses of others.
For men both closeted and out, internalized homophobia levels have been found to be the largest impediment to mental health for gay men. The experience of societal stigma, discrimination and oppression makes gay men view their sexual identity in a negative way and produces shame. This results in low esteem, emotional distress, physical disease and increased suicide risk. Further, coping responses like drugs, alcohol, unsafe sex, sex, porn, food, over-exercise, over-work, etc., mitigate the stress of living in a heterosexist culture, but are self-destructive. Compensations like overemphasizing masculine traits result in isolation, disconnection and loneliness. I work to free us all from horrible fear, humiliation and shame, toward recognizing the negative impact of homophobia on us and the importance of developing a positive sexual identity.
Having walked the walk, I help gay men thrive and sustain relationship in a sometimes insensitive world. I approach gayness as something that's positive, natural, and healthy. Thus, all of my work is in the context of being gay-affirmative. It's my goal to help change damaging experiences for gay men by: improving the poisonous homophobic atmosphere of our culture, alleviating symptoms or problems arising from these sensitive issues, fostering self-acceptance and self-love, affirming non-shameful authentic sexual identity, encouraging personal growth, and improving relationships.
Clients report that they are comfortable being themselves around me and that they find me easy to talk to. I deliver the rest of my message to you in this spirit.
You can search throughout the entire universe for someone more deserving of your love than you are, but that person will not be found. You deserve your love most.-Buddha
Chapter Two The Concern I'm Fine. What's the Problem?
By seeking we may come upon the truth. -Pierre Abelard
Maybe you just want more gay friends.
Maybe you're single, a great catch, and have tried everything you know to find true love-and still nothing's working. Perhaps you're fed up with "the scene" and wondering if there are still any good men out there. Maybe you worry you'll never find Mr. Right and you'll be alone-forever! Perhaps you're filled with envy every time you see a happy gay couple.
Maybe you're in a relationship and looking to feel closer to the man you're with. Perhaps you're tired of having the same argument. The passion in your relationship may feel like it's long gone. At times you may even wonder if you're with the right guy, but you don't want another failed relationship.
Maybe you can't quite put your finger on why it seems so hard to find a meaningful relationship that lasts with another man. You know you want deeper intimacy in your life. You're just not sure how to get it.
At times you may think things like: "Something's missing." "How do I make a gay relationship work?" "I'm tired of the bars, partying, and one-night stands." "Is it all about sex?" "I'm sick of all the attitude." "How do I meet more guys outside of the steam room?" "I'll always be single." "Why does it seem so impossible to meet a man for something more?" "No one wants me." "When do things get better?" "Something's just not right."
Don't spend another day racking your brain and beating yourself up. Want to know what's getting in the way of you and your man?
Meet Max. Max is a ruthless businessman. Like a hunter, he enjoys the "kill" of a deal. He was president of his fraternity and a star athlete. He is ruggedly handsome. The stubby shadow of his thick beard outlines his chiseled jaw. You can tell he is confident. Still youthful, he stands strong at 6'1", 210 pounds. He is muscular from pumping iron. He has large, rough hands. He sports a hard body complete with a six-pack of abs, a tatt, buzz cut, and cap. A rugby shirt covers his big, hairy chest. A pair of jeans hangs well on his solid lower body.
Max is tough. He keeps a serious face, a brooding scowl that can make him look mean and pissed off. He can be ready to fight at a moment's notice. He speaks few words. He remains stoic, careful not to reveal any weakness. He is an emotional mystery. He has a deep, commanding voice. He doesn't wear cologne. He moves in stiff and controlled strides. He needs no one.
Max is reliable. He provides for his wife, kids, as well as the family dog, in a decent neighborhood. He's a devoted husband, and while he and his dad are distant, he is a very loving father. On weekends he enjoys spending time with his family, attending a service at the community church, and fixing things around the house. He plays cards, drinks, and smokes cigars with the guys on Friday nights. They talk about the hot chicks they dream about screwing on the side. The guys like to yell out "faggots" if a preview for a Will & Grace rerun plays on TV during the boxing tournament.
Excerpted from Straight Acting by ANGELO PEZZOTE Copyright © 2008 by Angelo Pezzote. Excerpted by permission.
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